The main entrance is to be flanked by two large bronze panels lettered with passages from ancient manuscripts. On the roof will be a “Biblical garden,” filled with plant species that were around at the dawn of Christianity. A newly built wing will be clad in layers of handmade bricks from Denmark, meant to evoke the layers of history as they were recorded.
When it opens in late 2017, just about every aspect of the planned Museum of the Bible — the building materials, doorways and common areas — are intended to bring to mind the Holy Land or stories from the good book itself.
Even architectural enthusiasts who could care less about the Bible may take an interest in the $400 million project.
The historical focus begins with the building itself, a brick warehouse dating from 1923 that was Washington’s first to serve as a center of refrigeration, for the Terminal Refrigerating and Warehousing Co. A railroad brought cars full of perishables through an entrance on Fourth Street SW.
The property was the home of the Washington Design Center until Hobby Lobby president Steven Green, in search of a home for his museum, purchased it for $50 million in 2012. Officials and contractors detailed the building plans Thursday as they began demolition on a portion of the building that was added in 1982 and is to be replaced with a new wing.
Green and Cary Summers, president of the museum, have spared little cost, hiring six design firms for the work. The original warehouse is being gutted and mostly preserved, and then topped with a glass addition.
Originally the curving glass was meant to better evoke a scroll or Torah. Though the design had to be modified to meet historic preservation guidelines, from above it still somewhat resembles a rolled up scroll or closed book.
“We’ve been working to preserve really as much of the historic fabric as we can,” said Brian Flegel of Clark Construction, who is overseeing the work.
The building isn’t nearly as old as most of what will be inside. Green said he plans to house more than 44,000 Biblical texts and artifacts here, including early Bibles of Martin Luther and a 1631 version of the King James Bible.
Located a few blocks from the Capitol and the National Mall, the 430,000-square-foot building is also to include 20,000 square feet for a library and academic research center.
At the press conference, nearly a dozen television cameras were running as the demolition crew punched holes in the wall of the warehouse wall that will later connect to the newly built wing. Immediately next door are the offices of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Many of reporters’ questions for Green were about whether the purpose of the museum was to convince others to adopt Christianity or the teachings of the Bible. Green said the museum would focus on the Bible’s impact, history and its narrative. He put the mission this way:
“We would like to invite all people to come and learn about the book that has impacted all of our world. So our desire is to engage all people. It’s a book that ‘s had a huge impact. It’s been controversial. It’s been loved. It’s been hated. We just think people ought to know about it.”
But does he hope the museum brings other people to Christianity?
“We would hope people would consider what the book has to say and that’s a choice that they make and if it’s compelling that’s a choice that they can make on their own. But we believe that it’s something that everybody ought to consider,” Green said.
Does Green picture the museum as an agent for cultural change?
“As the museum directs people to the book and people are more engaged with the book, we believe that is a possibility,” he said.
Will the museum advance creationism?
“We’re not discussing a lot of particulars of the book. It’s more of a high-level discussion of here’s this book, what is its history and impact and what is its story. That is not necessarily a discussion for our museum to go to,” he said.
For those interested in learning more, come 2017 patrons will be able to tour the museum using electronic handheld devices to serve as tour guides. Lunch and snacks will be served in what was only described as a “throwback cafe.”
For more on Steve Green and the Museum of the Bible, see this 2014 story from the Washington Post Magazine.
Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz